How to not spoil your interfaith kids during the holiday season


“We get twice the presents!”

Most interfaith kids will utter this classic, and rather obnoxious, boast at some point during childhood. I have to admit, it makes me wince and grit my teeth a little. As an interfaith child myself, I understand all too well that bragging about Christmas and Chanukah gifts can be a defense mechanism designed to dazzle and deflect those who view interfaith families with skepticism and disapproval. 

But as the parent of two interfaith children, now 17 and 20, it was crucial every year to at least attempt to reduce the avalanche of holiday packages, boxes and bags. I really did not want my interfaith kids to feel entitled, superior or somehow wealthier than their single-faith playmates.

To be honest, I did try to give my kids double the gifts, but I wanted those gifts to be metaphorical or experiential, not material. The plan was to bestow on them deep connections to both Judaism and Christianity, education in the history and rituals and beliefs of both religions, and opportunities to celebrate with extended family on both sides. In lieu of buying stuff, my husband and I tried to focus on creating deep sensory memories for our children: frosting gingerbread houses and frying latkes, hanging ornaments and dancing around the menorah.

OK, so we are not total Scrooges, or Grinches, or ascetics. Each child got one pile of gifts for the holidays, and “Santa” delivered that pile on Christmas morning. I do understand why some families who don’t celebrate Christmas give a huge mound of presents on Chanukah instead. But giving two piles of presents on two overlapping holidays seemed to me like a misguided attempt to make the two holidays equal. 

Part of the beauty of celebrating both religions for our family is that Chanukah does not have to compete with Christmas. Instead, we let Chanukah be a more modest holiday, appropriate to its modest place in the Jewish liturgical calendar, where it stands behind Shabbat, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot in terms of importance.

Part of our strategy was to communicate with all the grandparents and aunts and uncles our intention to try to keep the gift-giving under control, and instead focus on those who are truly in need. One visionary great-uncle gave donations to a different charity each year at Christmas in lieu of presents, and wrote a letter about his choice to each member of the extended family. My mother has taken to donating goats and sheep and chickens in the name of each of her grandchildren through Heifer International. And each year, we shepherded our children to the local Alternative Gift Fair, where they made charitable donations in lieu of Chanukah gifts on certain nights: drumming lessons for youth in detention, psychotherapy and fresh local vegetable deliveries for low-income Washington, D.C., residents, and bicycle-repair kits for people in Uganda and Honduras.

And cumulatively, over the years, I must admit they got a lot of toys and clothes and books.

But being an interfaith family provided fresh incentive each year to focus on the carols and the klezmer, the firelight and the candlelight, and spending time with both sets of relatives. It took a conscious effort to keep Chanukah and Christmas from disappearing under a drift of torn red-and-green and blue-and-white wrapping paper. 

We did not always succeed. But I hope that if you ask one of my nearly grown kids about the benefits of being part of an interfaith family, you will get a deeper answer than “Twice the presents!”  

Susan Katz Miller, a former Newsweek reporter, is the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.” She blogs regularly at onbeingboth.com, Huffington Post and The Seesaw interfaith advice column at The Jewish Daily Forward. You can find her on Twitter @BeingBoth.

Gifts to de-light


These are serious times. We just finished a brutal election cycle here in the United States, and things are as tense and uncertain as ever in the Middle East. What better excuse than Chanukah, then, to relax a little? For those who are interested in passing along a little laugh with some holiday spirit, here are a few fun gift ideas.

In defense of acquiring material things


Every year around Christmas and Chanukah time, writers, commentators, pundits and many rabbis, priests and ministers exhort Americans against spending money on things. We are too materialistic, we are told every year. Happiness, not to mention a meaningful life, depends on our having non-material things, not material things.

Thus, Americans are told to spend little or nothing on holiday gifts. Give your children love and time, we are told, not train sets (are they still given?), dolls or electronic devices.

The problem is, this advice is built on platitudes. And as is always the case with platitudes — or they wouldn’t be platitudes — the words sound nice but mean very little.

Before defending material things, let me make clear where I do agree with the joy-deniers. First, there is no question that no material thing can compete with love, religion, music, reading, health and other precious non-material things. And second, experiences contribute more to happiness than things do. If you only have x amount of money to spend on yourself, traveling to new places is usually more contributive to happiness than a better car. When I had almost no money through my early 30s, I still traveled abroad every year — which meant that I could only afford an inexpensive car. I have now visited a hundred countries, and that has given me more meaning and happiness than a luxury car or any other material thing.

But having said all that, material things matter. They can contribute a great deal to a happier and more meaningful life.

A grandmother once called in to my radio show to tell me that instead of giving her grandchildren Christmas gifts, she wrote each of them a special poem. I respectfully suggested to the obviously sweet woman that I could not imagine any normal child preferring a poem to a material gift.

With all my love of family, of friends, of music and of the life of the mind, I have always loved material things, too. On any happiness scale, it would be difficult to overstate how much joy my stereo equipment has given me since high school. I so love music that I periodically conduct orchestras in Southern California. And I now own a system that is so good that its offerings sound only a bit less real than what I hear from the conductor’s podium. I bless the engineers and others who design stereo products, and it is my joy to help support their noble quest of reproducing great music in people’s homes.

Since high school, too, I have written only with fountain pens. Buying new pens and trying out new inks are among the little joys of life that contribute as much — and sometimes more — to one’s happiness than the “big” things. There is incomparable joy at attending a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding. But those great events last a day. I write with a beloved fountain pen every day, listen to music every day, smoke a pleasure-giving cigar or pipe every day (except Shabbat, for the halachically curious). I love these things. What a colorless world it would be without them. So, too, I love my house. And I love the artwork and furniture and library that help to make it beautiful.

Sure, I could write with a 29-cent Bic. Yes, I could hear great music on a $50 radio. Of course I could give up cigars. Certainly, I didn’t have to buy the 5,000 books and 3,000 classical music CDs I own, and I understand that I don’t need to live in a house when my “needs” could have been met in an apartment a third its size.

But, thank God, most Americans don’t think that way. We like things. And liking things doesn’t mean you love less or read less or appreciate sunsets less. Life isn’t a zero-sum game between free joys and purchased joys. Moreover, the American economy and that of most other nations depend on our buying considerably more than our minimum needs.

Can people overdo purchasing things? Of course they can. People can also overdo taking vitamins, exercising and even reading books or studying Talmud.

So, then, when do we need to control our buying things?
a) When it becomes a compulsion — when one cannot stop buying things because the buying gives more pleasure than the things that are bought.
b) When the primary purpose of the purchase is to impress others with one’s wealth.
c) When one cannot afford what one is buying.

But beyond those caveats, don’t let the killjoys get you down. “Work hard and play hard,” my father always said (and still does at 93). When he bought a new Oldsmobile every few years, the family stepped outside the house to marvel at it — and even as kids we understood this was his reward for working all day and many evenings six days a week.

May your holidays be filled with lovely gift receiving and giving and may your New Year be filled with both wonderful experiences and wonderful things. Both contribute to a fuller and happier life.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

Chanukah Gift Guide


Jonathan Adler Dachshund Menorah   Calling all dog lovers! The Dachshund Menorah designed by Jonathan Adler is not your standard chanukiyah. Made in Peru, this fair-trade sculpted menorah is made of high-fired stoneware and features a white matte glaze. The Dachshund Menorah is pottery at its finest and makes the ideal gift for the Festival of Lights. $120. jonathanadler.com.


Growbottles  Winner of the Eco Choice Award, Potting Shed Creations’ Growbottles add a touch of spring during any season — rain or shine. Basil, chives, mint, oregano or parsley easily grow when potted in these recycled and repurposed wine bottles. And, they create a unique display of freshness in any household or office. The Growbottles kit includes everything you need to make your plants flourish: seeds, pebbles, grow bottle and cork coaster. Replant kits available. $35. pottingshedcreations.com.


Matisyahu’s “Miracle” EP  Matisyahu has done it again with the release of his Chanukah anthem “Miracle.” The EP includes a track with his band Dub Trio, guest vocals by rapper Shyne, a remix by University of Colorado at Boulder freshman Miniweapon as well as a beatboxing and acoustic version. $7. matisyahuworld.com.


Laura Cowan’s Smart Dreidel  Forgot what the letters on your dreidel stand for? Have no fear because the Smart Dreidel by Laura Cowan teaches you how to play the dreidel game. The text on the dreidel is uniquely designed in acrylic and anodized aluminum, incorporating Cowan’s signature use of discs and cones. $80. lauracowan.com.


Cookie Monster Nosh Bib  Let your child indulge in a snack with his or her favorite monster — Cookie Monster! Designed by Rabbi’s Daughters for a Shalom Sesame collection, the cotton bib features yellow trim with a Velcro closure and an adorable picture of Cookie Monster snacking on rugelach. $18. store.sesamestreet.org, rabbisdaughters.com.


“I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River” by Henry Winkler  Actor Henry Winkler, best-known as the Fonz on “Happy Days,” shares all he’s learned while fly-fishing, which is more than just catching fish. Compiling humorous anecdotes and heartfelt observations from his annual trips to Montana and Idaho, Winkler recounts how his experiences on the river have shaped his perspective on life. $21.95. insighteditions.com.


Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes  Chef Daniel Shapiro taps his passion for baking to come up with the Modern Bite Chanukkah Gift Boxes. Baked to order, the boxed gift set includes natural sugar cookies with colorful icing that are pleasing to both the eye and stomach. Packed with a keepsake stationery box made of 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials, the cookies are ideal for satisfying a sweet tooth. $30. modernbite.com.


Marla Studio’s Beauty, Kindness, Compassion Necklace  What do beauty, kindness and compassion all have in common? Not only are they three of the many things Jews thank God for, but they are the three words that are engraved in Hebrew on designer Marla Studio’s brass pendant. An English translation is featured on the back, so even non-Hebrew readers can enjoy the striking message. $88. moderntribe.com.


“The Brisket Book:  A Love Story With Recipes”  There’s no longer a need for frantically searching for the best brisket recipes. Stephanie Pierson, author, food writer and brisket lover, has written a cookbook filled with only the best brisket recipes, accompanied by illustrations, poems, cartoons and musings. “The Brisket Book” has a recipe for everyone, and it’ll turn you into the star of any potluck. $30. thebrisketbook.com.


Chewish Treats  Who says dogs can’t get gifts on the holidays? Chewish Treats come straight from the doggy deli to your home. Allow your dog to indulge in these pooch-pleasing cookies that are topped with a yogurt-based icing. Made with only the highest-quality ingredients, these treats are sure to satisfy any kosher canine. $8. moderntribe.com.


Jewish Blessing Flags  If you’re looking for a decorative piece that has some Jewish value, these Jewish Blessing Flags are a must. Based on Tibetan prayer flags, each design is distinct in color and represents one of seven values in Jewish tradition: love, compassion, lovingkindness, peace, healing, respect and justice. The flags are suitable for the home, synagogue, classroom or sukkah. $20. fairtradejudaica.org

 

Chanukah gift guide


Chanukah Gift Guide 2008


Here’s some ideas for gifts that will continue to inspire long after the chanukiah has been put away. Bling that bridges faith and fashion, a DVD from a local yoga instructor and a Western Wall locket from an Agoura Hills jewelry designer are a few ideas from Southern California and beyond that can make shopping for family and friends easier.

Los Angeles designer Ellen Hart offers an alternative to the tired “status bag” with CareerBags (” target=”_blank”>http://www.elezar.com or at Royal Dutchess in Studio City).

Stella Rubinshteyn has created a treasure trove of mommy must-haves with Tivoli Couture (” target=”_blank”>http://www.awareables.com).

Jewtina ($20-$25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewzo.com) takes the animals of Chinese astrology and replaces them with New York deli favorites. Born in the Year of the Dog? Fuhgeddaboudit. Now you’re the Year of the Blintz. T-shirts ($18-$20), infant onesies ($20) and other Jewish Zodiac products make this a fun, personal gift for family and friends.

Rock Your Religion (” target=”_blank”>http://www.samsontech.com, also available at Best Buy and Amazon.com), which is compatible with both PC and Mac, can hold a 16-gigabyte SD card and features an on-board chromatic guitar/bass tuner.

If you are hoping to give (or get) inspiration this holiday, look toward the wisdom of Abby Lentz, who imparts hope and spirit with her “Heavyweight Yoga” DVD ($25, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.iamnotamess.com), a yoga DVD focused on health and recovery of body, mind and spirit created by Hillary Rubin, who was diagnosed with MS in 1996 and teaches at L.A.‘s City Yoga.

The Wish Locket by Agoura Hills-based Monica Nabati goes the distance from fashionable to meaningful by providing you with a Kotel you can keep close to your heart, among other designs ($56, plus $8 for additional engraving). Simply write out your hopes, dreams or prayers, fold the paper and insert it into the locket. Available at ” target=”_blank”>http://www.scenelifegames.com). The Seinfeld Edition gives players a chance to relive their favorite “Seinfeld” moments from each of the show’s nine seasons. Kids can school their elders on everything cool with the Disney Channel Edition, featuring clips and trivia from “Hannah Montana,” “High School Musical,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wendy Wu” and more. Given ($30, ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jewishmajorleaguers.org). Produced by the American Jewish Historical Society, the set bats .1000 with photos and facts of baseball’s greatest Jewish players. It also includes a special tribute to the 75th anniversary of Hank Greenberg’s rookie season. Once you’re on base, hit a home run with Bergino’s Judaica collection baseballs ($20-$25,

A wish list of guilty pleasures and goofy gifts


We’ve all been there.

You go to the store, turn on the TV or pick up a catalogue and see something incredibly silly that you never in a million years would buy for yourself (it’s also called a “guilty pleasure”). But you can always say you are buying it for someone else.

So in the grand tradition of the Pet Rock, the Moses action figure and the snow cone machine, The Journal presents the Chanukah gifts you really want but won’t admit it.

Just when you thought Barbie has done it all … the blonde anatomical wonder now comes with Tickle Me Elmo Extreme (TMX) in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the beloved “Sesame Street” character. The 12-inch doll, wearing an oh-so-trendy TMX Elmo shirt, is joined by a knee-high version of the huggable red monster that giggles when you press his belly.

If Elmo isn’t your thing, why not Barbie with a dog — a soft, fuzzy pooch named Tanner that does everything a real dog should, everything. We shouldn’t give away too much … but this Barbie comes with a minimagnetic scooper!

And if Tanner gets lonely, you can buy her Mika the cat, owned by Barbie’s gal-pal, Theresa. The feline (and her owner) come with bowl, toys and — I think you know where this is going — a litter box that Theresa gets to clean. Something tells us that this isn’t quite what creator Ruth Handler had in mind.

Each Mattel doll will run you $19.99.

Attention closet Fanilows: This one’s for you. “Copacabana” king Barry Manilow pays homage to the “classics” in “The Greatest Songs of the Sixties.” The follow-up to his “Greatest Songs of the Fifties” includes renditions of “Cherish”/”Windy” (with The Association), the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and the Beatles’ ballad, “And I Love Her.” We don’t think these are all the “greatest” hits — but it’s sure close. And if you are itching for some authentic Manilow, rumor has it that when you play “Blue Velvet” backward, it sounds like “Mandy.”

Arista, $18.98 on CD (but a lot of online stores have it on sale).

Minsk and Pinsk. Just try to say the words out loud without smiling. See, it’s funny because they sound alike — “The Big Book of Jewish Humor” says so. The 25th anniversary of the Jewish humor canon, by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, doesn’t just offer jokes, it gives the methods behind the shtick with the help of some of the biggest names in Jewish humor, through clever cartoons, famous one-liners and stories you just have to use your hands to tell. Why can we make fun of ourselves when others can’t? Because nobody does it better.

(Collins, $24.95) Available in bookstores — probably in a front display marked “Chanukah,” next to the blue-and-white wrapping paper.

You’ve seen ’em hang with Scooby Doo, Josie and the Pussycats and Snow White … now come see the team built by Abe Saperstein for yourself. What? You’ve never heard of Abe Saperstein! How about the Harlem Globetrotters?

One of the best-known franchises in the world has been around since 1927, and they’re coming to L.A. Monday, Feb. 19, for a night of laughs and lay-ups. While you won’t find Meadowlark Lemon, Curly Neal, Goose Tatum, Marques Haynes or “Sweet” Lou Dunbar at the game, we dare you to not start whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Staples Center at 1 p.m. on President’s Day. $16-$135. Ticketmaster.com.

They say dogs sometimes look like their owners — so how about you, your honey, your baby and Fido get matching T-shirts for a good cause? Friends of Pups for Peace sells the cutie couture, whose proceeds will help stop terrorism around the world by training dogs to sniff out the bad guys. The pups logo comes on tank tops, long sleeve tees, sweatshirts, ties and hoodies — as well as doggie bowls. So you’ll look cute and do a mitzvah.

1-800-699-8930, www.pupsforpeace.org.

X-Men, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk. You’ve seen the movies, you’ve read the comics, you’ve dressed up and acted out their fight scenes in your backyard (don’t try to deny it). Now Stan Lee, the man behind Marvel Comics, and Rob Thomas, Lee’s assistant editor, let fans see — and hear — how it all began in the coffee table book, “The Amazing Marvel Universe.” Throw in the added scoop of “Marvel vs. DC” and the “Women of Marvel” and it’s an out-of-this-world present. And because it comes in such a cool display case, you can take off that mask when you read it and let your true identity shine through.

$50. $75, if you are an evil genius hell-bent on taking over the world.

You know you loved them the first time, as much as you try to deny it. Now all that e-mail campaigning has paid off, and they are out on DVD, to be enjoyed all over again. Judy Graubart and friends on “The Best of The Electric Company, Volume 2” remind us all that grammar is fun ($39.98); “Northern Exposure — The Complete Fifth Season” features the episode where Dr. Fleischman’s parents come to Cicely for the first time ($59.98); Blanche discovers her Jewish roots (Did I mention her name was Feldman?) in “The Golden Girls — The Complete Sixth Season” ($39.99); and the awesomest ’90s show around, “Beverly Hills, 90210 — The Complete First Season,” taught us two things: They went to West Beverly, and her name is pronounced Ahn-drea ($54.99).

Not sure if they are supposed to be Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero’s favorites or our favorites, but “Connie Francis Sings Jewish Favorites” is just too unique to resist. The “Where the Boys Are” chanteuse puts her vocal chords to a dozen songs, including “Hava Negilah,” “My Yiddishe Momme” and “Tzena Tzena.” Believe it or not, the album hit No. 69 on the Billboard charts (it was 1961, but still). So maybe the boys were at the deli knocking back a few egg creams.

$19.99. www.thejewishsource.com.

My Gift List


My wife and I don’t make a big deal out of Chanukah presents. Our family tradition stops far short of indulging in the orgy of getting and spending that overtakes America every holiday, I mean, Christmas, season.

One look around our house reminds us that neither our closets nor shelves need any more stuff. So when my wife asked me what I wanted for Chanukah, I came up with this wish list:

I want a president who will take Iran 1,000 times more seriously than he did Iraq.

For the past three months, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been saying that the Holocaust never happened, that Israel should be dismantled and moved to Europe, and that Israel should be “wiped off the map.” In the meantime, his country has deceived and stalled U.N. weapons inspectors even as it has announced plans to build 20 more nuclear reactors. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has indicated that Iran is in breach of its obligations to comply with its agreement against developing nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration, which took a gung-ho approach to the now-disproven Iraqi threat, has taken a passive and gutless approach to Iran. Earlier this month it supported a Russian proposal that would allow Iran to domestically manufacture all but one element of the nuclear fuel cycle, and it again allowed the IAEA to defer referral of Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. That move prompted a rare public condemnation from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, hardly a fount of administration criticism: “This decision will facilitate Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and undermines international efforts to stop Iran from achieving such a capability.”

The nutty Iranian president and the radical mullahs in charge will have nuclear weapons as early as this year, according to some Israeli analysts (see story, p. 20) — unless the U.S. and the international community acts forcefully now.

I want the U.S. Senate to derail, crash and blow up the House of Representatives’ attempt — again — to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This isn’t about saving caribou or protecting tundra — not that there’s anything wrong with that — but about forcing Congress and the president to develop a real, sustainable energy policy.

One reason for this is the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels. The other, made clear by Israeli energy expert Gal Luft on a swing through Los Angeles last week, is this: our growing dependence on Mideast oil fuels extremism and terrorism and “poses lethal threats to America and its allies.”

Luft said that although only about 12 percent of our oil comes from the Mideast today, 66 percent of global oil reserves are in the hands of Middle Eastern regimes. Saudi Arabia alone has 25 percent and Iran 8 percent. That means that our Mideast policy will not only fund more terror, but eventually bring us into conflict with the fast-developing economies of China and India. Luft’s Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (www.iags.org) has specific, hard-headed ways to avoid this bleak future.

I want Jews to keep a sense of perspective about “Munich.”

Mel Gibson didn’t start pogroms with “The Passion of the Christ” and Steven Spielberg’s new movie won’t destroy Israel. As a thriller it is intermittently successful, as history it is suspect and as a political tract it raises questions that will — and should — provoke thoughtful debate. Why Spielberg would step down from the pedestal that “Schindler’s List” built to enter the fray of Mideast politics and — worse! — Jewish politics, I have no idea, but the phrase “glutton for punishment” comes to mind. Still, there is no doubt his effort is well-intentioned, so let’s keep the fist-shaking and name-calling to a minimum. That would be a Chanukah miracle.

I want the middle to continue to expand, until it squeezes all the hot air out of the far left and far right.

The signs are encouraging: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stood up to his right and withdrew Israel from Gaza; Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, has offered a sober defense of the administration’s Iraq policy; the Republican-controlled Senate slapped the president’s wrist on the Patriot Act; and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a Democrat as his chief of staff. Are these signs that the next presidential election will actually be about effective policy, not platitudes? McCain-Feingold in ’08, anyone?

I want “Never Again!” to mean “Never Again!”

Jewish groups have been in the forefront in condemning the genocide in Darfur and in aiding its victims. But we need to do more to push our leaders to impose sanctions and no-fly zones and offer additional aid on behalf of the victims in Sudan. Earlier this month Congress voted to cut out all $50 million in the current budget to help pay for African peacekeepers in Darfur. If there is no national outcry, there will be no political will to help, and the words we have brought to international conscience will rightfully ring that much more hollow.

That’s all I want for Chanukah — oh, and maybe a nice bottle of red wine.

Happy Chanukah.

 

A Funny Present Happened Here


Lighten up your Chanukah without striking a match. Yes, we fought, we won, we ate — but we can also laugh. While gift-buying is sometimes lumped in the same category as root canals and traffic on the 101, the humorous books, music and DVDs below will make the whole process a lot more fun.

Even better, every item below is available via the Internet. So stay home, put your feet up, crack open some foil-wrapped gelt and get ready for myriad thank-yous from your friends and family, who are so glad you didn’t give them socks — again.

Nap time is Shluffy Girl’s favorite time of the day…. Unfortunately, Shluffy Girl’s love for sleep sometimes gets her into trouble.” While most of us have been there, done that, there are lessons to be learned from Shluffy Girl, the newest character in Anne-Marie Asner’s Yiddish-titled Matzah Ball Books series (Gingerbread houses might be nice — but nothing beats a gingerbread menorah. The Popcorn Factory’s (Make 2006 go by just a bit funnier with “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Presents America”: The Calendar — now with August (Warner Books, $11.95). Based on the book of the same name, the desk calendar comes with instructions on how to assemble the darn thing (it’s really difficult).

Keep an eye out for the nods to the MOTs, such as on Rosh Hashanah, where the Timeline of Democracy notes that in 1,300 B.C.E., God gives the Ten Commandments — “and nothing bad ever happens to the Jews again.”

You think your family is bad this time of year? What about Holistic New Age Aunt, Uncle Speedo and Child Who Was in a National TV Commercial? All the freaky relations are gathered together in Justin Racz’s new book, “50 Relatives Worse Than Yours” (Bloomsbury, $14.95).

Each relative comes with a profile, gift idea, motto, home, benefits and drawbacks. But even if you can’t relate, literally and figuratively, to Uncle Speedo, fear not — Jewish Mother is at No. 23 (and there is room in the back to add in other odd branches of your family tree).

While it’s Chanukah at your house, it can be “Springtime for Hitler,” as the musical film version of the musical stage version of the nonmusical film, “The Producers,” releases its soundtrack (Sony, $18.98). Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beech and Wisteria Lane’s favorite pharmacist, Roger Bart, reprise their roles in Mel Brooks’ Tony Award-winning show. The veterans are joined in absurdity by Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman, who actually sings. No, really.

What if you hit your head and woke up in Menorahville — where everything is bought and sold in gelt, every female is Jewish and single and almost no guy wants to get married? OK, Los Angeles right now isn’t too far off, but this stuff is fiction.

Author Laurie Graff takes us to the crazy world of dating in “Eight Dates of Hanukkah,” one of the three stories in “Scenes From a Holiday” (Red Dress Ink, $12.95). When singles events planner (and slight commitmentphobe) Nikki Heller lands in a “Chanukoma,” it may take more than a miracle to help her find her way out of an endless cycle of the Festival of Lights.

Forget The Wiggles. If you’re getting songs stuck in your head, they might as well be Jewish ones from “OyBaby 2” (

Skip the Tsuris of Chanukah Shopping


With Chanukah coinciding with the rush for the “other holiday,” why spend unnecessary time hunting for parking at the mall or waiting in line? We’ve surveyed some of the hottest catalogs and Web sites for eight nights of creative gifts. Best of all, you can order in a hurry online or by phone.

For Kids

Busy little ones with activity books, postcards and more all packed in a box of 101+ Things to Do on Chanukah. Or just keep it simple with a roll of 168 Chanukah stickers, $4+, ” target=”_blank”>Kosher.com or (866) 567-4379.

Keep kids in touch with walkie-talkie wristwatches within a range of 400 feet ($30 for two). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com or (800) 547-1160.

For Her

Warm her up with stylish sweaters and an Oprah favorite: shearling lace-up Uggs ($180). NormThompson.com. For casual times at home, comfort her with ultrasoft Wooby sweats, hoodies, hats and more ($14.50+). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Tummy control knit pants ($59) and a “wearable art” Mirror Lake silk shirt make for easy wash and wear ($69). ” target=”_blank”>NormThompson.com.

Treat him to sand-washed silk or silky microfiber shirts ($60 each). And splurge on high-tech, moisture-wicking Ex Officio’s knit boxers that double as travel gear by drying within two to four hours ($25). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

For Travelers

Gift a friend with IOU a Trip, complete with leather world travel atlas and a “let’s take a trip” postcard. Your friend fills out the postcard with a date and time for your future get-together and then mails it back to you ($55), ” target=”_blank”>TravelSmith.com

Can’t sleep in-flight? Convert your coach seat into a much more comfortable ride with a remarkable, inflatable seat cushion. It really works! ($40). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com or (800) 846-3000.

Never stub feet again with rubber reinforced toes and unparalleled comfort soles from Keen Footwear ($80+). ” target=”_blank”>Sahalie.com.

Capture time worldwide via radio signals with the self-adjusting Atomic Travel Alarm Clock ($39). ” target=”_blank”>Brookstone.com

For Home and Hearth

Grow Israel-inspired Inbal paper-white flowers ($35), burn a romantic bouquet of carved waxed poppies ($20) or cultivate a wish with “magic beans” that grow imprinted with inspirational messages, such as “heal,” “faith” and “love” ($15). ” target=”_blank”>Bathtopia.com or (888) 717-2284.

Lavender-scented eye masks and hot/cold heart-shaped pillows filled with whole buckwheat seeds ease tensions ($18+).

Gifts for Your Honey Too Large to Wrap


Those eight crazy nights are coming up fast. Still stumped what to get your sweetie? Think outside the giftbox and give your loved one a gift certificate for an experience. Whether it’s a pampering, an adventure, or just some much needed help, Los Angeles is loaded with services that will make your Chanukah honey happy.

Eight Gift Certificates for Him:

The Shave

Help your man show off his punim with an old-fashioned straight razor shave (starting at $45) at The Shave of Beverly Hills (230 S. Beverly Drive). This barbershop retreat for the urban man offers up hot towels, ESPN, shoe shines, and a shot of whiskey. ” target=”_blank”>www.concierge.com or (323) 468-9395.

Sports Package

He’s gonna watch sports whether you like it or not, so make yourself look like the most amazing babe and buy his sports for him. DirecTV offers an NBA Pass, MLB Extra Innings, ESPN’s NCAA Full Court, even a Mega March Madness Package. Starting at $109, these packages will make you his MVP. ” target=”_blank”>www.nitespa.com or (323) 465-7148.

Race Car Lessons

Does he feel the need for speed? Give him a day at Performance Race Training Center in Irwindale. Classroom instruction is followed by NASCAR-style stock car driving on a half-mile banked-oval speedway. Put your honey in the driver’s seat for $199. ” target=”_blank”>www.chefjoanna.com or
213-393-9661.

Eight Gift Certificates for Her:

Closet Organizer

How many times have you heard your wife say “I can’t find my black purse!” or “Have you seen my red jacket?” Give a gift certificate to In Perfect Order. They’ll organize her closet, clean her garage or assemble her photo albums. “We embrace all aspects of clutter,” owner Jessica Duquette says. ” target=”_blank”>www.chateaumarmutt.com. For gift certificates, call (323) 653-2062.

Handyman

Could she use help assembling furniture, installing an appliance or hanging a picture? Call on Mr. Handyman. No project is too small — a service technician will arrive at her home and take care of all her home maintenance and repair needs. A gift certificate will come in handy when those stressful, unexpected home repairs pop up throughout the year. ” target=”_blank”>www.lushspa.com or (818) 506-7848.

Straighten Her Out

Jewish girls got curls, but sometimes we like to wear our hair straight. Give her the gift of smooth, shiny locks at Umberto Salon (1772 S. Robertson Blvd.) Straight Blow-Dries range from $18-$37 depending on the stylist and the length of her hair. It’s a gift she’ll use to look hot for you on a special night. (310) 204-4995.

Tech Support

Has she ever called you crying because her computer crashed and her thesis paper/production report/script draft is due? Geek Squad to the rescue. The squad is an elite tactical unit of highly trained and highly mobile agents, who seek out and destroy villainous computer activity. They even make house calls. Geek Squads are located inside Best Buy stores (West Hollywood, Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, Glendale) and there’s a freestanding store in Santa Monica (2800 Wilshire Blvd.).

A Jewish Spin On Gift-Giving


Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it’s finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband’s Tanta Miriam, the pressure’s on.

Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties — Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah — and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, “What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?” and “If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?” There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.

The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.

The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.

Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal’s, for $19.95 and are also available online, at www.theboxgirls.com. — Staff Report

The martini on the cover of “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N’ Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside — it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.

The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman’s version of “Maoz Tsur” is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.

The chimes in Scott Leader’s “Hanukkah o Hanukkah” make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don’t be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience’s “Descarga Ocho Kandelikas.” Even the simplistic “I Have a Little Dreidl” gets a grown-up treatment — it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?

The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (” target=”_blank”>www.sarahdavid.com. — SL

Web Links Your Wallet to Gifts From Israel


 

With Chanukah fast approaching, you might want to look to the east for the best gifts. Presents from the Holy Land have resonance for both the recipient and for Israel, whose economy could use a little boost from American consumers. Since most people can’t just run to Jerusalem for holiday shopping, consider these Web sites as outlets for gift items you can’t get anywhere else.

” target=”_blank”>israeliproducts.com

Buy a jar of honey from the actual Land of Milk and Honey. Or create a unique and original gift basket from this site, which includes cookies and pastries, spices and olive oil. And if you spend more than $100, then Linda Katz, owner of the site, will pay all of the shipping charges. Hers is a shop based out of Maryland, dedicated to paying all the overhead costs of importing Israeli goods. The two-year-old Internet company donates 100 percent of its modest profit to charities in Israel. According to Katz, her small staff takes no salaries and they all have other jobs. She said the main goal of her business is to distribute Israeli products in the United States.

” target=”_blank”>israelrose.com

A couple years ago, Flori Rosenthal of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel visited some family in New England. She was greeted with warm smiles and fragrant roses upon her arrival. When she asked where the beautiful roses came from, she was surprised to learn they came all the way from the Negev Desert in Israel. Since, she has arranged fundraisers for her temple by purchasing the roses in bulk and selling them to congregants and community members. The roses grow in a computerized climate-controlled greenhouse and come in eight varieties. Two types of mixed dozens are also available. The roses are freeze-dried and need hydration upon arrival. Instructions are included with the package. According to Flori, the hydrated roses last up to two weeks. The only catch for these beautiful desert blooms is you have to purchase a minimum of four dozen so they can be sent in bulk. Four-dozen roses cost $70 — that’s only $17.50 per dozen, shipping included. The deadline to order roses for arrival by the start of Chanukah may already have passed by the time this article goes to print, but if you hurry, you may be able to receive your roses before the eighth night.

” target=”_blank”>mavrikjewelry.com

This site brings beautiful custom-made jewelry found only in boutiques directly to your doorstep. Internationally acclaimed artisans such as Michal Negrin and others fashion breathtaking adornments from precious metals and stones, as well as other materials, inspired in the heart of the Holy Land. The pink, green, blue and gold crystals in Negrin’s rings surround a delicate flower set in a ring of brass. The rings, bracelets, earrings and necklaces capture light and attention wherever they go. Another favorite set by an unnamed artist is a fiery blue opal set in a sterling silver square — a bargain at $49.95. While you’re at it, why not splurge on the earrings, too? Only $45 more. Oh, wait. We’re shopping for others, right?

 

Perfect Gadgets for Jetsetter, Homebody


When it comes Chanukah, you’ve got eight nights to get your gift giving right. Our Gift Guide points you toward a cornucopia of categories for every evening of the Festival of Lights. From low- to high-ticket pricing, we’ve got your loved ones covered, including frequent fliers, adventurers, techies and homebodies of all ages. Last-minute shoppers never fear. With online and phone-in orders, you won’t have to battle holiday traffic.

Bon Voyage

Breathe right with the ionic 1.5 oz. Ultra-Mini Air Supply ($125). Bless your car with a compact version of “Baruch HaCar” ($20), the traveler’s prayer. Surprise your favorite road warrior with a collapsible flashing orange Pack-A-Cone ($25). And supply travelers with Eagle Creek’s astonishing Pack-It Compressors, Two-Sided Cube and other well-priced, smart ideas, such as the Flat Pack Organizer, Jewelry CarryAll and waterproof Splash Caddy ($10 and up). Magellans.com, (800) 962-4943.

Streamline laptop travel with an action-packed lightweight Vertical Computer bag ($85). Awesome convertibility, with a removable computer sleeve for quick getaways. REI.com, (800) 426-4840.

Retrieve luggage with the Victorinox’s astonishing Global Track I.D. Tag ($15). You lose it, they send it back — gratis. SonomaOutfitters.com, (800) 290-1920.

Lux

Cuddle up with a scrumptious F horseshoe head pillow ($25), Brookstone.com, (866) 576-7337.

Eshave’s rich shaving creams, in floral for her and cucumber for him, complement a his/her kit with pink and blue Lucite-handle razors ($195). The picture is complete with a T-shaped chrome stand. Plumparty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Top-of-the-line, foldable “noise canceling” stereo headphones are pricey. Save with NoiseBuster ($69) from Pro Tech Communications.com. Amazon.com (free shipping).

Brew full-bodied gourmet coffee or tea anywhere in the unbreakable, portable Bonjour French Press Carafe ($15). Add romance with a totally flat, packable plastic WonderVase (three for $15) that you mold under warm water. Or create ambiance with a flickering, battery-operated CandleSafe made of real wax ($25). Magellan’s.

Oprah loves a shimmery lime and powder blue silk throw ($100). Will you? PlumParty.com, (800) 227-0314.

Washable suede shirts, sweater jackets and “cashnear” knits are equally yummy ($89 and up). Travelsmith.com.

Techno

Save money and the planet with a Dual-Voltage Battery Recharger ($35). Complete with four AA NiMH batteries, this practical gift runs on both 110 or 220 volt current. Magellan’s.

Shape up with a digital pedometer ($30), loaded with a panic alarm and calorie counter. Or tune in with Orion’s AudioView AM/FM radio binoculars ($90). Travelsmith.

Navigate 20 reversible routes with a wrist-mounted GPS receiver/personal navigator from Garmin Foretrex ($130 to $170). In under three ounces, compute speed, track trips and calculate distances, all while telling time. REI.

Countdown

The flip-top, analog Dakota Mini Travel Clock ($35), features sleek stainless steel in a charming wooden box. Or keep time here and in Israel with easy-to-set dual-time tank style watches ($79 each) for him and her. Magellan’s.

Wake up to shortwave with Grundig’s ultra-compact Mini Radio ($40). Draws in seven bands of shortwave signals, plus AM, FM. With a digital clock, sleep timer and earphones, it’s good to go. Or indulge and download news, weather and calendar dates on the Suunto Web Watch ($299). Includes stopwatch, alarm and date. Subscribe to MSN Direct for stock quotes, sport scores and more. Travelsmith.

Call of the Wild

Prepare for all-weather winter adventure with outdoor gear. Add breathable warmth with soft, moisture-wicking Performance Wool separates ($95 and up). Fast drying and machine washable. Bundle up with 650-fill-power goose down jacket ($99) with a water-repellent, breathable finish that resists light moisture. Doubles as a zip-in liner for REI parkas and packs small for the space conscious. And hydrate with the REI Runoff Pack ($60 and up). The women’s version boasts super comfortable shoulder straps for women-specific contouring. REI.

The ultimate camping mat, the self-inflating Therm-A-Rest Dreamtime Sleeping Pad ($199) includes a cushy pillow top and washable fleece cover. Campmor.com, (800) 525-4784.

His

The classic calfskin Taxi Wallet ($49) or the Cash InCase key ring ($20) stash cash for all occasions. Magellan’s.

Gift gentlemen with the English Butler Shoe Shine kit ($80), includes a distinctive leather case. Delight amateur astronomers with the Night Navigator digital electronic compass ($99). And help Zayde fight off chills and spills with a stylish “Teflon” Stain-Free Cardigan ($99). Travelsmith.

The Gerber Nautilus Flashlight Tool ($69) packs a four-mode LED light with Fiskars scissors, a fine-blade knife, Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, with a bottle opener. REI. Or cut loose with Leatherman’s “high-wattage” Charger Ti multitool. It boasts interchangeable bits, perks galore and lightweight titanium handles. Cabelas.com, $100.

Hers

Classic equestrian-style boots ($160) combine comfort and fashion. Bornshoes.com. Or prep her for wet weather with a 100 percent waterproof, packable microfiber Balmacaan raincoat ($179), optional lightweight liner ($70) and plenty of rain-worthy boots ($89 and up). Travelsmith.

For the perfect shoulder bag on the road or at home, Hobo’s women-designed, microfiber Essential Traveler ($69) hides travel documents and organizes pens, travel guides and more. Attach a handsome leather phone tote ($25) that doubles as an eyeglass case. Magellan’s.

Wrap her in a cultural souvenir from the Himalayan region of Kashmir. This black merino wool shawl ($89) features colorful hand-embroidered flowers. ShopNationalGeographic.com, (800) 437-5521.

Kids

Wooly mammoths and saber-toothed cats, hornless rhinos and giant sloths hold court in NatGeo’s Prehistoric Mammals book ($30). Ages 8 and up.

Or explore the “Atlas of the World,” eighth edition ($125). Hard copy purchases include online access to customized maps, satellite imagery and downloadable updates. National Geographic.

Little ones beam in super-bright blue light with a tiny Microbeam flashlight keychain ($20). Brookstone.

A responsible teen ready for a pocketknife? A miniature Jewish version of Victronix’s “Star of David” model ($15) features a bright blue case and white Magen David. SwissArmyExpress.com, (877) 289-2769.

Little Robosapien ($100), a carefree “pet,” combines robot technology with personality. Command Robo with a remote or speech to fetch books and perform 65 other functions. Ages 6 and up. SharperImage.com, (800) 344-5555.

Lisa Alcalay Klug is a former staff writer for The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times.

Chanukah Rights


Growing up, I was one of the few children that did not
receive Chanukah presents. My family gave gelt, the money that children
traditionally receive on the holiday while gambling over the
game of dreidel, the spinning top.

My parents wanted to make the holiday as different from that
green and red one that sometimes falls at the same time. An easier task then, I
suppose, than now.

But isn’t that what the Festival of Lights is really about —
making sure we stay different? The Israelites resisted Hellenization; can the
American Jews resist Christmasization?

 From Adam Sandler to “The Hebrew Hammer” to the ultimate
public display of Chanukah — Chabad’s giant chocolate menorah at Fashion Island
in Newport Beach — we Jews have managed to procure equal Chanukah rights for
all, thank you very much. Maybe that’s not a good thing.

One nice thing about my time living in Israel — aside from
avoiding overly sentimental holiday songs and films — was the fact that most
people I knew didn’t have a lot of money. Most of us couldn’t afford to buy
everything we ever wanted, so we stuck to buying the things that we needed,
like toilet paper and shoes.

As an anonymous Yiddish author wrote in “A Treasury of
Jewish Humor,” which was compiled in 1967: “To have money is not so ai-ai-ai!
But not to have money is oy-oy-oy!”

There is no going back in time to when we were less
affluent, to when we gave a few pennies for gelt instead of gifts, to when
Chanukah and Christmas weren’t often synonymous for “the holidays.” And that’s
a good thing in many ways, I suppose.

But can’t we Jews bring something more to the holiday table?
Don’t we have more to offer this season than a giant chocolate menorah and
eight gifts instead of one?

In Judaism and in life, the world presents two inherent forces
competing for every person’s soul: gashmiyut (materialism) and ruchaniyut
(spirituality). We don’t shun one in service for the other; the tradition
understands that the material world has a place, too: our spiritual leaders
don’t take vows of celibacy — they marry.

A person who chooses to be a nazir (an ascetic) can only do
so for 30 days. The Jewish tradition teaches that wealth should be used to
enhance spirituality: avodah b’gashmiyut. Worship through materialism.

This week, as Chanukah and Christmas collide, instead of
unrealistically calling for a moratorium on spending (who would listen?),
perhaps we should look to our tradition to see how we can enhance our values
through materialism: avodah b’gashmiyut.

We can use our spiritual — and hopefully, emotional — wealth
to give to others: to donate our time, our services, our money.

But we need to do more than co-opt the “holiday spirit,”
that somewhat superficial niceness that descends on everyone, for say, two
weeks out of the year. Chanukah shouldn’t be completely Americanized, neutered
of all spiritual meaning, with candles instead of a tree, latkes instead of
fruitcake (as if that’s a fair choice).

The Festival of Lights, of course, is about a battle that
was won by the few against the many and the miracle of the Temple menorah’s oil
that lasted eight days instead of one.

Perhaps this year, some will draw a parallel of the
Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks to the United States’ capture of Saddam
Hussein.

To me, Chanukah is about the survival of the Jewish people.
How do we do it? Julie Gruenbaum Fax writes this week about how some movements
are looking to conversion as a route to survival. Many stories in this issue
testify to the ways we continue: from Tom Teicholtz’s article on the revival of
Yiddish (The “always dying but never dead” language) to Rabbi Eli Hecht’s tale
of his feisty bubbie’s stolen menorah. Survival is apparent, too, in our own
community, where the Orthodox Union held its annual West Coast Convention, just
days after the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra gave a masterful performance at
Disney Hall and the next day went to Milken High School to visit with student
musicians.

What does it take to survive? Strength, courage and, yes,
even adaptability and change. If the victory against the Greeks was about
withstanding assimilation and taking on foreign ways, perhaps this Chanukah we
remember that some of our greatest gifts come, already unwrapped, from our very
own tradition.  

Miracle of Miracles!


Have you ever experienced a miracle? What’s a miracle anyway? Is it something that only God can do? The rabbis say that it was the Jews who actually created the miracle of Chanukah. They fought to keep Judaism alive when it was in danger of being extinguished. Here, today, in America, we must fight the same battle. Be part of the miracle: Learn about your Jewish roots; study Hebrew; visit Israel; shine the beauty of our religion on the rest of the world by doing works of tzedakah (charity). Keep the miraculous flame of Judaism going. Don’t let the light go out!

 

Well, here’s something else you can do with apples to make great Chanukah gifts!

What You Need

  • Apples

  • Poster paint for paper or fabric paint

  • Paper plate or shallow tray

  • Paper or fabric

  • Knife to cut the apple

How to Make It

Apple printing is always fun there are two very different prints:

  • There are two different apple prints that are easy to make. Cut an apple in half through the stem to make an apple shape. Cut one through the middle to make a circle stamp with a star in the middle.

  • Put some paint on a tray or paper plate. Take your stamp, put it in the paint and then stamp it on a plain tote bag, T-shirt or paper.

  • Get creative by alternating shapes and colors.

  • Remember to put a thick layer of paper inside the shirt/tote to prevent the paint from bleeding through to the back of the fabric.

One Night for Israel


Maybe only seven nights of gifts would be enough for your family? The Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund (IESF) hopes so — they’d like you to save the eighth night for an Israeli family in need. It is easier than ever to bring a little Chanukah light into the holiday for Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers or victims of terror and their families. Instead of wrapping up one more PlayStation2 game, put a smile on a child’s face in Israel.

The new Toys for Chanukah campaign comes hot on the heels of IESF’s Rosh Hashana Honey campaign — when you, dear readers, sent honey for a sweet new year to Israeli victims of terror, IDF soldiers and friends and family in Israel.

Four different gift packages are available, from the $18 Soldiers’ Package to a $72 basket filled with latkes, sufganiot and other goodies. All the products are made in Israel, so when you give a Chanukah gift to an Israeli family, you give a gift to the Israeli economy as well. Packages include popular Israeli games and toys, like a Hebrew version of Monopoly, dreidel kits, and candies. When you send a gift through the Toys for Chanukah campaign, you can also send a personal note, letting an Israeli family know that the Jews of Los Angeles remember the spirit of the miracle of Chanukah

To order a Toys for Chanukah gift package, visit www.walk4israel.com or call (800) 672-8411.

Something for Everyone


Some years ago, the American Booksellers Association’s holiday advertising theme was the phrase: “Give a gift of love; Give a book.” Jewish Book Month, scheduled in November, anticipated the gift-giving season. This year, as always, a fresh crop of children’s books appeared for the holiday. Consider choosing one of these instead of toys that beep and break:

* Highly praised in publications of the American Library Association and other reviewing journals, Cathy Goldberg Fishman’s “On Chanukah” (Atheneum, 1998) describes the meaning and rituals of the holiday as observed by a young girl and her family. As each candle is lit, a different aspect of the observance is examined and differing qualities are associated with each night’s light: a light of hope, strength, giving, knowledge, freedom, happiness or faith in the darkness. Illustrations by Melanie W. Hall are in mixed media, soft and somewhat abstractly rendered images of family celebration, which include specific symbols in their fluidly glowing composition. Ages 4-8.

* “A Chanukah Treasury” (Henry Holt, 1998), compiled by prolific children’s writer Eric A. Kimmel and illustrated by Emily Lisker, is a delightful compendium of not only history and tradition, but stories, songs, poetry, recipes, legends and lore. It offers information found nowhere else I know of: for example, the source of the White House Menorah (did you know there was one?); how to celebrate Chanukah in Alaska while being stalked by a moose (hint: he loves latkes); and a few interesting variations on the dreidel game. The pictures, in acrylic paints on canvas, are brightly colored, reminiscent of folk art and a definite asset to this entertaining and educational work. For family use; all ages.

* Little people are not unknown in Jewish children’s literature. We did, after all, have K’tonton. But he was an out-in-the-open human family member. In “When Mindy Saved Chanukah” (Scholastic Press, 1998), also by Eric Kimmel, Mindy Klein’s miniature family — like The Borrowers — live very much behind the scenes, in the back of the walls of the famous Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York. When the shul brings in a predatory cat, the Klein family’s plans to go foraging for a candle with which to celebrate Chanukah become very dangerous indeed. After Papa fails, intrepid Mindy dares all and succeeds, helped by zayde, who understands that cats can seldom resist pickled herring. Barbara McClintock’s ink, watercolor and gouache illustrations are a delight, using sepia tones to enhance the early 1900s setting and amusing details to underscore the family’s size (zayde’s helmet is a thimble; Mindy’s climbing hook is a paperclip). Ages 4-8.

* Mark Podwal, whose work appears both in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the New York Times, is the author/illustrator of many Jewish books. His latest, “The Menorah Story (Greenwillow, 1998), is in simple text and glowing pictures. Podwal gracefully casts light on this important symbol and its place in Chanukah’s history. Ages 5 and up.

* In 1987, Jane Breskin Zalben began writing and illustrating a series of warm and cozy stories that brought Jewish holiday tales into the popular tradition of using small animals to tell universal stories. This holiday season brings us “Pearl’s Eight Days of Chanukah (Simon & Shuster, 1998). Pearl, a young lamb, celebrates each of the eight days along with visiting cousins Harry and Sophie. Linked by short segments describing the family’s activities for each night are recipes, crafts, puppet shows, songs, history of the holiday and more. Painstakingly and charmingly illustrated in pencil and watercolor, this is an excellent guide for families celebrating with young children. Ages 4-9.

* For a Chanukah chuckle, seek out David A. Adler’s “Chanukah in Chelm,” wonderfully illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1997). In this picture book, Mendel, the caretaker of the shul, has a big problem when the rabbi instructs him to place the chanukiyah on a table by the window so its glow may be seen outside. Finding the menorah in a closet, he goes off in a futile search for a table, ignoring (like many of us) what is right under his nose, the table the menorah rested on in the first place. Funny and fond old-world watercolor and pen pictures by O’Malley are just the thing to expand upon Adler’s humorous folk tale. Ages 4 and up.

Also appropriate for Chanukah are several new books that not only address Chanukah, but the entire Jewish year:

* Gilda Berger’s “Celebrate! Stories of the Jewish Holidays” (Scholastic Press, 1998), with vivid and dramatic watercolor paintings by Peter Catalanotto, first ties each holiday to a story from the Bible (e.g. the story of Jonah for Yom Kippur), Berger then appends three sections on each story: What We Celebrate, exploring the background of the holiday including a timeline; How We Celebrate, explaining traditional observances; and Crafts and Food, which provides activities and recipes with careful instructions. All ages.


Rita Berman Frischer is the librarian at Sinai Temple

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